THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION : Eternally maternal

Katey Sagal is back in Mommie-Not-So-Dearest mode.

The actress was hardly the model mother as the wise-cracking, lazy housewife Peg Bundy on Fox's "Married . . . With Children." But that character would be "Mother of the Year" next to Gemma Teller Morrow, the ruthless matriarch of an outlaw biker club on FX's "Sons of Anarchy."

The role on the drama, which has grown in its second season to one of the cable network's most popular dramas, is the latest in a gallery of TV mothers for Sagal, who also played a soccer mom on the comedy "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter." While thrilled over the growing popularity of "Sons of Anarchy," which was created by her husband, Kurt Sutter, she still finds time for her first love -- music. She often performs at the intimate M Club in Hollywood. As she sat in one of the club's booth, she talked about TV bikers and the late John Ritter.


Your character was introduced last season as this real tough-as-nails matriarch. But this season started out with you being brutally beaten and raped by a vicious white supremacist (Henry Rollins).

Gemma's been undone, and there needed to be an incident of that magnitude to undo her. This is a person who has had it tough from the jump, and has a very tough skin. This threatens her family and threatens her sexuality, which is very important to Gemma. It makes her ask all kind of karma questions, God kind of questions that Gemma had shoved away years ago.


When your executive producer and husband Kurt Sutter told you what you would have to endure this season, did you raise your eyebrows a bit?

He explained it to me in the context of the bigger story he was trying to tell, so it made sense. It wasn't gratuitous. Sure, I was a little apprehensive, but I know these kinds of things are handled really delicately. I also know Henry is a really sweet guy. He was probably more nervous than me. I'm sure he was a little on edge.


You've definitely portrayed a distinctive range of TV mothers.

They're all different, but all similar in that they are all loving in their own special, unique ways. In "Married . . . With Children," the overriding thing was that the family stayed together. As much as they acted like they didn't like each other, you look at the big picture, and there was no divorce. That to me was a statement of love. Gemma seems the most complex. She loves these people, she doesn't want to see anything happen to her little world. She will protect that to no end.


After "Married . . . With Children," what was the industry perception of you in terms of handling meaty dramatic roles?

Certainly in terms of casting me in series situations, I had to prove that I had those chops. But that's always been OK with me. When you do something for 11 years, there's a perception of who you are and what you do. It does take a minute to turn that around. And with me, it took a minute.


Were you OK with that?

It's all kind of a blessing. "Married . . . With Children" gave me opportunities I never imagined I would have. Sometimes it would be a little frustrating, but I don't want to put it in terms like "What a drag." I don't look on it in that way. I've worked all this time. So how bad can it be?


Looking back on "8 Simple Rules," what do you cherish most?

The only reason I wanted to do it was because of John Ritter. We had done a movie together three or four years earlier, and when I heard about it, I called my agent and said, "Just get me in, I want to work with John." He was an amazing guy, wonderful energy. Even after John was gone, he was still there. I love John.


Music always seems to be a key part of your life. Are people surprised when they find out you're a singer?

My ambition was to be a singer-songwriter and to make records. It wasn't until my late 20s that I thought, "I'm struggling with this too much. I need to open up my vision."


Describe your music.

What I do is what I write, all soulful and folky. (Laughs). Now when I try to write, I have nothing to say because I'm in a very good place.


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